Shout! Factory // 1959 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // October 26th, 2007
"Many a war has been won by good, competent jogging."
Sweaty musclemen and bediapered Greeks. As the fourth entry in The Film Crew series, The Giant of Marathon finds clock-punching disc monkeys Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett one epic step closer to their prescribed goal of recording a commentary track for every movie that doesn't have one.
The Giant of Marathon is a return to form after last month's relatively disappointing The Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo, and feels like a sort of homecoming for old-school Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans, considering how much of a mainstay to that series Steve Reeves's Hercules movies were. Unfortunately, Marathon lacks the fantasy flavor of those oily-pec'd classics, opting instead for a heavily political, pseudo-historical vibe.
Set in Ancient Greece by way of Italy, Marathon tells the story of megabuff peasant-turned-Olympic-hero Phillipedes -- the titular, metaphorical, "giant" played by bodybuilder Steve Reeves (Hercules Unchained) -- who leaves behind his plow to save Athens and the beautiful maiden Andromeda from the traitorous Theocritus, who's plotting to reinstate exiled ruler Hippias by helping the Persians to...well, look, as much as this movie wants to be a sword 'n' sandals epic about the triumph of rural purity over big city greed, it's really just an hour and a half of way too many half-naked men and way too few half-naked women. That's a personal preference, of course, and one shared by the Crew, who take many a stab at the movie's blatant man worship. When Kevin wonders aloud whether men hoisting other men on their shoulders is "too gay," Bill asks if anything can be too gay: "Uh, Harvey Fierstein? Nathan Lane? Brunch?" Though the film all but dares them to do it, you could argue the Crew makes a few too many "men enjoying the company of other men" jokes. They rarely push the envelope (and most are pretty darn funny), but I can imagine self-serious enlightened types being offended; I wouldn't blame them. As NPR-smart as The Film Crew can be, they certainly don't shy away from "juvenile" humor -- and why should they in the face of so many nude male statues ("Package for you, sir")? Speaking of juveniles, while the frank (no pun intended) talk of male genitalia might be tame by prime-time Fox Network standards, this disc isn't really for kids.
If you're not offended by snide remarks about men who randomly wrestle (and who spend a good portion of the movie underwater wearing only white loincloths), you certainly should be by all the awful things that happen to horses in the film. As Kevin says during one of the overlong battle sequences: "No horses weren't harmed in the making of this movie." Despite the unfortunate equine abuse ("Seabiscuit! Shadowfax! Mr. Ed! National and International Velvet!"), the film actually picks up a bit in the second half. Though a good amount of the Athenian-Spartan fighting consists of guys gently tapping at each other with fake swords ("I've seen tougher mosh pits at a Celine Dion concert"), there are some decent impalements and bloody arrows through necks and torsos. 300 it's not, but the surprising flirtation with competence helps involve the audience enough to give the jokes some heft.
Though the interstitial skits fall a little flat (again), the bonus features are a pleasant surprise: Mike's apology for comments disparaging Basque, Italian, and Norwegian culture walks a funny line between P.C. pandering and outright offensive, and the "commentary" by fictional film extra Walter Ferguson (Nelson doing an "old man" voice) is easily as good as the feature commentary. I don't want to give too much away, but Ferguson's (mildly racist) recollections about all the parts he was forced to play builds on a clever premise that goes about as far as it can, then goes one step further. Hilarious.
The film's video quality is pretty terrible (no surprise there), and the audio is no better. There's a significant volume discrepancy between the feature and the commentary, and the disc as a whole is pretty quiet. It's not a big deal, but I had to adjust the volume a few times. The packaging, which is consistent with the three previous DVDs, continues the "prize inside" theme of Wild Women of Wongo. Last time it was a Film Crew logo bumper sticker; this time it's a vinyl cling sticker I assume is for your TV, transparent except for the Crew members striking their signature poses and reacting in judgmental revulsion at everything you watch. While not as iconic as the MST3K Joel (or Mike)-and-the-bots silhouette, it's a nice gift to fans.
After putting out four DVDs in as many months, it looks like The Film Crew is going on vacation. Let's just hope it's not of the permanent variety -- getting new material out of these legends of funny film commentary has been a real treat. I don't know if these discs sold well enough to justify a "season two," but I'm sure Mike, Kevin, and Bill have more episodes in them (just look at their steady stream of mp3-only "RiffTrax"). If you bought the first three Film Crew DVDs, The Giant of Marathon should be an automatic purchase. If you're new to the series -- though you might want to start with either of the first two releases, The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark or The Film Crew: Killers From Space -- the Crew's take on this Steve Reeves snoozer is well worth supporting with the currency of your choice.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "An Apology From Mike Nelson"
* Selected Scene Commentary by Walter S. Ferguson
* Official Site
* The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark Review
* The Film Crew: Killers From Space Review
* The Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo Review